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Are You a Pharisee? Surviving Religious Burnout Part 2

How to Get Off The Spiritual Treadmill

My new mini-book, Surviving Religious Burnout, Launches Tuesday, August 4. You can pre-order it now on Amazon, Kindle, Apple Books, and Barnes and Noble. I wanted to give you a preview so here is an excerpt from Chapter 1.

Video Version

For the next few weeks I will be posting a video version of my blogs. Going to try this format out to see how you like it. So below is basically this same blog in video form. Let me know what you think. Should I keep doing this?

Have You Eve Met a Pharisee?

“I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire

The Religious Rut

Have you ever met someone who is proud to be a modern-day Pharisee? Probably not. Most well-meaning believers are unaware they have slipped into a religious rut that resembles legalism. Their good works look like a thriving faith, but the roots are different. Without making a change, those stuck in this Christian performance trap will see their excitement replaced with exhaustion.

The Spiritual Treadmill

You can only run on this spiritual treadmill for so long before you realize you are going nowhere. The frustration of always moving but never arriving is enough to cause anyone to become discouraged and give up. 

Ask any of the millions of joggers in the world, and they will tell you running is not just meant to be work. Running should refresh you as you experience unexplored placed and familiar ones in a new way.

It is the same with your faith. Christianity is not an exercise in discipline. It should be an enjoyable, meaningful experience. 

It Is Not About Good Works

The Christian life should produce good works. It is not about good works. It is about knowing God and making Him known. Your good deeds are only sustainable when they come from an overflow of your love relationship with Jesus. When your position in Christ comes before your performance for Christ you are on your way to a refreshing life as a believer.

That is the point of this book. I want to help you get out of your spiritual rut and into an enjoyable, meaningful Christianity. To do this, we will have to dig up the roots of burnout. After that, we will plant seeds of truth that will lead to a flourishing faith.

What is Religious Burnout?

Religious burnout is a cycle of gaining your worth and security as a believer from what you do for God, instead of who you are in Christ. Some people may call it legalism. Others refer to it as being a Pharisee. I see it as a pit any of us can fall into on the path of good intentions.

A Christian performance trap will wear you out. It will ask more from you than God does. In return, it causes you to become judgmental and never feel content as a believer. True holiness is rooted in your connection to God, not your commitment to rules or your religious performance. Following rules may change your appearance, but only a love relationship with Jesus can transform your heart.

We all want to get the most out of our relationship with God. That is why you need to escape the Christian performance trap and take part in true high-performance Christianity. 

So what do you think? I would love to hear from you about this topic as well as if you think I should keep doing youtube videos on my posts.

I would love it if you cheked out my new mini-book on Amazon, Kindle, Apple Books, and Barnes and Noble. It helps tremendously if you leave a review. After reading this post you definitely qualify as a reviewer!

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Surviving Religious Burnout Part 1

Are You Being A Christian or Doing Christianity?

My newest mini-book, Surviving Religious Burnout, launches Tuesday, August 4. You can pre-order now on Amazon, Kindle, Apple Books, and Barnes and Noble Nook.

Why I Wrote This Book

I realized over the years a certain theme developed in my writing. Out of that, a mission emerged. I want to help people discover an enjoyable, meaningful Christianity through sharing God’s truth in a refreshing vulnerable way. This book is an expression of that idea.

Working on Being

There is a difference between doing Christianity and being a Christian. Let me explain.

I became a follower of Christ at a young age. I loved going to church, reading the bible, and sharing my faith. As I grew older, so did my boldness and excitement about Jesus. 

My “doer mentality” motivated me to accomplish many good things. It also made it hard to find security in being a Christian without working towards a spiritual goal. Resting, relaxing, and enjoying being a child of God were foreign to me. 

Repeated Burnout

This approach to Christianity caused me to burnout repeatedly. I was always happy to do more than others up to the point I was no longer able to do anything at all. 

Burnout is not typically a symptom of a half-hearted Christian. It takes a committed follower of Christ to perform good works to the point of exhaustion. This is who I want to help with this book.

I hope Surviving Religious Burnout helps you find a more enjoyable, meaningful Christianity.

Reflection:

What do you think causes religious burnout?

Is burnout a sign you do not love God enough or are there other contributing factors?

How do you avoid burnout?

What do you do to get out of burnout once you realized your feeling exhausted in the are of your spiritual life?

I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment or give your answer to these questions on social media when you share this post!

Check out this preview on Amazon:

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There’s Something I’d Like to Say

Confessing The Weeds in My Leadership

The Parable of the Weeds

“He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”‘”

– Matthew 13:24-30 (ESV)

Soul Gardening

We have all experienced the wheat as well as the weeds of leadership. We have either lived through someone else’s wheat and weeds or guided others through our own garden mixed with both the good and the bad. I’ve always thought the master allowing the weeds to continue to grow with the wheat until the harvest was interesting. Why does God allow the bad of spiritual leaders to grow with the good? Why not pull all the weeds out now? 

Too often, we expect our spiritual leaders to be perfect. This is unrealistic and unfair. Once we find there are weeds in the lives of those that lead us, it can be easy to write off all people in authority. After experiencing hurt, some people’s initial reaction is to stop going to church or label Christians as hypocrites. It doesn’t have to be this way. All of life comes with both wheat and weeds. It’s possible to experience both the good and the bad of a church culture or ministry leader and remain thankful and honoring. 

At the same time, any leader who is not honest about and repents of his or her own imperfections is not being the best reflections of Christ they can be. We all need to attend the garden of our soul. The harvest will come, and God will ask us to give an account of the weeds in our leadership.

There’s something I’d like to say about my own weeds.

There was a time in my life when my words and behaviors towards people resulted in spiritual abuse. I was a Pharisee, legalist, and avoider of grace. This did not just negatively impact my own life but also those around me. In my role as a church leader, I caused hurt and pain in the lives of others. My weeds got in the way of the good I was attempting to accomplish for the Kingdom of God. 

Some in a similar situation may blame the culture they are in, the feeling of having no other choice but to do as they are told or even being a victim of abuse themselves. While these are genuine contributing circumstances for me and many others, I feel I must focus on my responsibility over factors that were in someone else’s control.

“It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.  

I am the master of my fate:

 I am the captain of my soul.”

-Invictus, by Nelson Mandela

At any point, during this time in my life, I could have taken responsibility for myself. Eventually, I did. This doesn’t wipe away my part in using people’s desire to please God to achieve my goals and validate my need for approval. It has, though, allowed for redemption to step into my story. I can now see God’s hand working in each of my past experiences to help me point people in a better direction. It has also helped me own the good in my past in a way I can always be grateful for while also learning from my “weeds.”

Seeking Forgiveness

Once I first decided to make an intentional change in my life and approach to ministry, I went to specific people I felt I owed an apology and asked them to forgive me. I also listened as they shared how my approach to being a church leader negatively impacted them. 

Eventually, I felt God say I didn’t need to track down each person involved in situations I regretted. This would be to put their healing in my hands instead of His. So I asked for and received His forgiveness, and prayed for anyone I have ever hurt to find the courage to begin the process of healing with God’s help.

A couple of years later, after I had a better perspective of my own involvement in these behaviors and ministry methods, I began blogging about my transformation and growth in how I related to God, church, and others. This opened the door to many more conversations with those in search of healing.

I now feel it is time to combine both of the previous steps I have taken in the past – to be public and specific. The goal is not to wallow in the past, but to help those presently struggling in similar situations and those specifically impacted in this way in the past.

With that said, I would like to offer my heartfelt and sincere apology to anyone I have ever hurt in my role as a spiritual leader. I am sorry for the things I have done and said that have caused pain in your life. I was wrong, and I am asking for your forgiveness. 

I am sorry I…

…was not careful with my words and said things that were extreme, mean, rude, and painful to others.

…felt it was my job to put people in their place instead of using my role as a leader to lift people out of the place they were in.

…was hypocritical in what I asked of others while making excuses as to why I was not required to do the same things.

… didn’t listen, because I assumed I already knew the whole story. Often, I gave ultimatums when I should have offered mercy. 

…used the scriptures to belittle, cut down, and categorize outsiders in a way that took away from their humanity and value as a person.

…judged people’s motives, thoughts, and intentions (as if I could know these things), instead of assuming the best and speaking to God’s best for them.

…marked people as rebellious and cut them off from relationship when they did not submit whole-heartedly, not only to God but to the customs of our group.

…flippantly questioned people’s salvation and sincerity in their commitment to God when they didn’t live up to my man-made standards or unrealistic expectations.

…created an environment of correction and outward performance in my ministry instead of encouragement and inward transformation. I made it hard, if not impossible, to be vulnerable, honest, and real. I gave no place for grace.

… allowed submission to authority to mutate into something other than what God intended. Instead of being a life-giving principle that brought safety and security in trusting God and the spiritual leadership He places over us, it became a gateway to control, fear, and intimidation. 

……thought it was my responsibility as a spiritual leader to be involved in every decision of the lives of those in my ministry (who they should date, where they should work, and even how they should spend their money and free time). In doing this, I replaced the voice of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives, and developed dependents on me instead of disciples of Christ. 

These things all feel so foreign to me now. I don’t think I am anything close to this person I don’t want to remember.

Why Apologize?

There will be those reading this who do not need an apology from me but are maybe waiting on one from someone else. Would you accept this apology on their behalf? Not for their benefit, but for yours. Whether it is a parent, pastor, church leader, or another person in a leadership role in your life, I believe if they could see things through God’s perspective, they would ask for your forgiveness.

Others may misunderstand why this needs to be said. Why bring this up if it was so long ago, and you are no longer this way? First of all, it is never too late to apologize, because time isn’t a substitute for, “I’m sorry.” If you’ve been through this, then you get why this is important. 

Secondly, owning my mistakes may encourage growth in someone else by helping them respond better to their shortcomings. Taking responsibility for our “weeds” (the bad in our leadership) is how we separate from them and shed new light on our “wheat” (the good that has taken place through our ministry). Denying our failures is how they get repeated.

Thirdly, I see these same behaviors in zealous young leaders too often. I believe their intentions are good, but I want to help them see there is another way, as I am sure they eventually will, as soon as possible. 

Moving Forward

Finally, unhealthy leadership can exist even in healthy churches and organizations. There can be great people doing amazing things in the same place where dysfunction is also present. Jesus talked about this in the Parable of the Weeds (I shared this at the beginning of the blog). This teaching shows us how to respond to unhealth in leadership. To take Jesus’s approach is to live in an uncomfortable tension between the wheat and the weeds in all of our lives. Healing from negative experiences in a church is never an excuse to attack others. Don’t try to pull up others’ weeds prematurely, even though it can be difficult to live with them.

In the same way, being a spiritual leader is not an excuse to turn a blind eye to your own faults, even though it is embarrassing to deal with them. Healing, as well as a lasting legacy, won’t take place if we continue to ignore the problem. If you are willing, let’s move forward together in forgiveness and restoration.

Further reading on this topic:

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You Can Never Have Too Much Ice Cream

Misconception: Grace Is All We Need

*What you are about to read is Chapter 2 from my book, Grace Is A Dirty Word. I put this together as an ebook about 3 years ago. It was the first free download I ever offered on my blog. Recently I updated it and am making it available for free just a couple more weeks when you subscribe to my blog. After that, you can get it amazon after that in paperback or kindle.

Running to Extremes

Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. It’s true with queso and ice cream, as well as religion and grace.

When you have experienced too much of one thing, the temptation is to swing to the other extreme. Balance is the more appropriate response.

This pendulum swing is especially a problem for me because I am a man of extremes. For me, balance is going in every direction at full-speed at the same time.

Too Much Ice Cream

Have you ever noticed it becomes more socially acceptable to eat giant portions of ice cream at an ice cream parlor compared to someone’s home? They can scoop a whole pint onto your cone after you wait in line for it and no one bats an eye. Ask for more than one scoop after dinner only if you want people to be known as someone with no self-control.

On one of my first trips with ARC, there was a Ben-n-Jerry’s Ice Cream shop across from the hotel where we were staying. I did not know such a place of wonder existed. I thought Ben-n-Jerry’s decadent treats were only available in tiny proportions from the grocery store freezer section. 

This was different. Mere footsteps away from my room was all the ice cream I could ever hope for. The unending possibilities enamored me. I wasn’t on a work trip. I was living in a fantasy world.  The magnetic pull on my heart, mind, and soul – the very essence of my humanity, was undeniable.

There was some talk of going there after dinner, but I could not wait until then. What if by some travesty the group changed their mind and decided to go somewhere absolutely horrible, like a fat-free yogurt shop, instead? I was not willing to roll the dice and take such an unwarranted risk. So, I quickly unpacked, and then walked across the street to indulge in cold, creamy goodness before our meeting.

Now I could have gotten one scoop, but that would almost be an insult to Mr. Ben and the great gentleman that is known as Jerry. So, I got two scoops. One was a marvelous mound of peanut butter cup and the other a refreshing ball of mint chocolate chip. I couldn’t allow these spectacular creations to go unnoticed in a small paper cup either. They needed to be exalted on a pedestal of waffle dipped in chocolate and covered in sprinkles.

There couldn’t have been anyone happier in a 100-mile radius. I walked down the sidewalk, licking and holding up my hand-scooped gluttony in the air for all to see.

I had gone overboard for sure, but I wasn’t finished yet.

The group did decide to go to Ben-n-Jerry’s after our meeting, and I again got yet another scoop of ice cream.

The guilt was too much for me, and so I confessed my sugary sins to one of my co-workers. After telling him of my previous trip to the ice cream shop, he said, “Sounds like you have a problem with balance.”

Finding Balance

You see, dedicating myself to eating broccoli for the rest of my life would not have solved my problem, because eating ice cream was not the issue. The real problem was that I was not able to enjoy ice cream in balance.

If you have come out of a controlling home or rigorous religious environment, then you may think that rules, religion, and commitment are the problem. Maybe you think grace is all you need.

If this is the case, then adding grace will not cure your sickness. You will just take grace to the extreme you once took your religion, rules, and commitments.

This was a temptation for me once I realized I had become out of balance with my religious commitments. Was grace all I needed?

Grace and Truth

The answer to that is as simple as looking at Jesus.

The Gospel of John has an excellent description of the Son of God:

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” 

John 1:14

The only thing we really need is Jesus. He came in grace and truth. This is important because, in a day and age in the church when people are pitting grace and truth against each other, we need to understand that God put them together in His Son.

Grace and truth work together, not against each other. A lack of either would be the equivalent of a bird with only one wing. No matter how much you focus on making that one wing stronger, without the other, you are just going to crash and burn.

We can’t sit on the beach and eat ice cream all day, or we will grow overweight and unhealthy. We need moments of refreshing but should also remember our mission. God wants us to enjoy life, but life should never become about ourselves.

We need grace, and we also need truth. We need refreshing and also refocusing. The key is to find balance. Going to any extreme is simply unhealthy. 

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Greasy Grace and Sloppy Agape

Grace Is A Dirty Word Part 1

*What you are about to read is the introduction to my book, Grace Is A Dirty Word. I put this together as an ebook about 3 years ago. It was the first free download I ever offered on my blog. Recently I updated it and am making it available for free for the next few weeks when you subscribe to my blog. You can get it on amazon after that in paperback or on Kindle.

Avoiding Grace

I used to think grace was a dirty word. It was something that needed to be explained if you were going to talk about it. Sometimes it was avoided altogether when sharing from the stage, so no one got the wrong idea about the kind of Christian I was.

Have you ever felt something similar about grace? Maybe your church culture focused on holiness, standards, and truth to such an extreme that it made talking about grace a little uncomfortable. For many, this is a foreign concept. But those stuck in a performance-oriented faith will know what I mean.

If your first assumption when you hear someone talk about grace is they are making an excuse for compromise, or if you don’t know what to do with the idea of grace after salvation, then I encourage you to continue reading.

Greasy Grace

One of the reasons I considered grace a dirty word, is because I thought people who celebrated grace were out of balance. It seemed they only used the word to justify a life of sin. If you didn’t love holiness as much as I did, then you probably practiced “greasy grace.”

Where did the phrase “greasy grace” come from? I don’t know, but it sounds like something that leads to all kinds of slimy wickedness and makes the devil grin.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked grace. I just didn’t know what to do with it. I thought too much of it was unhealthy. I guess it was like spiritual ice cream. It tastes good, but too much will give your soul a bellyache. I celebrated God’s grace at the moment of salvation, but things got confusing after that.

I didn’t want to be guilty of taking advantage of grace in the same way an older kid may con a younger one into trading a valuable baseball card for a handful of throw-a-ways. It was almost like I was approaching grace in a guarded way as not to accidentally take more than I deserved. The assumption here is that at some point, I could earn what I had.

There was no “Sloppy Agape” for me at the theological dinner table. I’ll just have a little grace by myself after dinner when no one else is around. Because let’s face it, whether we want to admit it or not, we all continuously need the grace of God. We may not want to give it out and may even publicly warn against getting carried away with, but we’re all counting on it being there when we need it ourselves.

Abusing Grace

The lack of the grace of God in my life caused me to live exhausted and hurting. I was also a drag on others. The impossible standard I was trying to maintain meant I was not good enough for myself, and neither was anyone else. I felt it was my duty to keep everyone accountable and to maintain an external religious rigor that was tearing me up inside. I was God’s hall monitor of truth. That guy may feel like he has more power than anyone else but usually sits alone at the launch table. #persecution

In reality, I was abusing grace by not taking advantage of it, which is something that probably did make the devil grin.

Grace became this dirty word that made me feel like I was not grateful to God. I felt like I was disrespecting God every time I needed forgiveness. Something God had given me for my benefit became something wrong to use.

Fuel for Our Faith

Eventually, I was honest with myself and admitted avoiding grace wasn’t working for me. I wondered, “Why don’t I pursue it a little bit and see what happens?”

Taking this first step was when the magic started, and it is why I wrote this book.

Many of us begin with grace but leave it at the start of our race. As a result, we become discouraged before the finish line. We can’t make it through this marathon of faith if we think grace is a dirty word.

In this book, I share eight common misconceptions about grace. Most of these come from my own struggle to embrace grace along with a few other observations I have made along the way. I hope they all help you run your race well.

You can subscribe here to receive a free copy of Grace Is A Dirty Word..

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Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself

The Case for Enjoying Life

I used to think exhaustion and spirituality went hand-in-hand. I bragged about not taking time off to rest. I felt I always had to be doing something if I was truly committed to the cause. I now know finding time to relax, and having fun outside of religious activities are not things that should cause me to feel guilty.

The truth is, you don’t have to be hard on yourself to be a deeply spiritual person.

Reading through Ecclesiastes recently reminded me how much God wants us to enjoy life. Religious obligation doesn’t want you to know that. If the enemy can convince God’s most devoted servants that pleasure is sin and rest is a weakness, then zealous believers may give up after experiencing exhaustion, depression, and frustration.

5 Keys to Enjoying Life from Ecclesiastes


Don’t be too good

It seems the key to lasting happiness is balance; not religious extremes. Enjoy life but also don’t be foolish. Remember, we will give an account to God.

“So don’t be too good or too wise! Why destroy yourself? On the other hand, don’t be too wicked either. Don’t be a fool! Why die before your time? Pay attention to these instructions, for anyone who fears God will avoid both extremes.”

Ecclesiastes 7:16-18 NLT

Enjoy what you have

It’s also not useful to always be dreaming about what you could have or wishing for what you don’t have. Appreciate what God has given you.

“Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless—like chasing the wind.”

Ecclesiastes 6:9 NLT

Have a party

Do you know anyone who could use a splash of cologne? Then send them this verse! I love that God doesn’t always want me on a diet, counting calories, and making my own clothes. He’s ok with me getting in line at the buffet every now and then and finding something nice to wear. Life was meant to be enjoyed!

“So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne!”

Ecclesiastes 9:7-8 NLT

Most of my youth was wasted on being out of balance. I was much too hard on myself because I thought that was required to be holy and pleasing to God. In college, I avoiding many “fun” activities that were not sinful but would take away from doing “spiritual” things. Looking back, I wish I would have taken more of that time instead of being so serious.

Find balance

Again, balance is the key. Not going to either extreme is the answer to an enjoyable, meaningful Christianity.

“Young people, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do.”

Ecclesiastes 11:9 NLT

Learn to rest

This is where I am now. I love to learn. I can also develop anxiety from my continual pursuit of knowledge. God doesn’t want His children to be worn out. He wants us to enjoy life and remember we will give an account to him for every secret thing, whether good or bad. This is something I need to remember.

“But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.”

Ecclesiastes 12:12 NLT

What do you think? Did any of this strike a nerve with you? Agree or disagree, I’d like to hear from you!

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Pursuit Over Perfection

Refresh Your Goals and Your Soul

How are your New Year’s Resolutions going so far? According to the book, FINISH, 92% of New Year Resolutions fail. Jon Acuff says that you have a better chance of getting into Julliard than you do completing your New Year’s Resolution. So if your goals are already derailed, then you are probably not alone.

I can relate.

Falling Short

At the beginning of the year I was determined to exercise at least 30 minutes a day for the first 7 days of the New Year. The only problem was that we went out of town that first week. After traveling all day I kept my exhausted family from sleeping once we arrived at the hotel on the first night so that I could work out. Yet, the next day I missed my goal. The second week of the year I go sick and missed another day. Determined not to be sick the next day I actually worked out in the freezing weather and made my condition even worse.

Perfection is a brutal taskmaster. Seeking perfection is also why many people never find the ability to Finish. Jon Acuff explores this idea in detail in his book, FINISH.

What Causes People to Quit

He opens the book by discussing an online course called, 30 Days of Hustle. A study was done to look at what caused people to finish this course or not. He found out that trying harder and grinding more was not the solution. In fact, the day after people missed an exercise for the first time was the day that most people quit. In other words, the moment people realize that can’t achieve perfection they quit.

The Problem of Perfection

This is an extremely helpful thought for those trying to achieve goals, but it also caused me to think about our spiritual lives as well. I used to try and maintain a perfect Christian existence. I didn’t allow myself or anyone else to make mistakes. This caused me to be constantly discouraged and those around me were on pins and needles afraid to make mistakes as well. I thought permitting myself and others to make mistakes would be licensing compromise. In actuality, it would have only been allowing people to be human.

I do not believe God wants us to live that way.

The Solution of Pursuit.

This is why I have learned to champion pursuit over perfection. This is not only good for your New Year’s Resolution but for your soul as well. God modeled how He wanted us to live by pursuing us first (Romans 5:8). God could have demanded that we serve Him, but instead allows us to choose to respond to a love relationship with Him. 

We never need God more than when we make a mistake. The lie of perfection will cause us to hide from what we need most in a moment of weakness. Feelings of “I’m not good enough” or “I am a failure” sound pious but they really aren’t. They just put the attention on ourselves instead of God.

Pursuit over Perfection

There is not only a freedom that comes from choosing pursuit over perfection, but also the ability to finish what you start. When your faith becomes about rules, regulations, and perfection not only are you missing the point, but you will also become discouraged by your own extra standards.

For more thoughts on overcoming perfection on your quest to finish your goals check out Jon Acuff’s new book, FINISH: